Animal Writes
23 September 2001 Issue
What Do We Tell Our Children?

Thoughts from the Rev. Meg Riley
Director, UUA Washington Office
September 11, 2001

What do we tell our children?
We listen. We hold them. We tell them, "I love you." "Love is forever."

If they are very young, pre-school aged, tell them, "Parents and teachers keep children safe."
Listen. Hold them. Tell them, "I love you." "Love is forever."

If they are old enough to be aware that this happened, but not really to understand the specifics of what happened, ask them, "What do you think? How does your body feel?" Then listen to their specific feelings and reassure them. Don't answer questions they don't ask, but do listen for the questions behind the questions. They may want to be reassured that there are grownups who love them and will take care of them, no matter what. Tell them, "Let's not watch TV tonight; let's go to church and be with our people!"
Listen. Hold them. Tell them, "I love you." "Love is forever."

If they are old enough to understand the facts of what happened, and want to process why it happened, tell them that sometimes horrible things happen. Tell them that, while every person is inherently good, sometimes people get angry enough and scared enough to do very mean things that hurt other people. Tell them that we don't know yet who did this, and that it is important to respect all people while we take the time to figure it out. Tell them that a small group of individuals did this-not a religion, not a country, not a person who looks a particular way or has a particular kind of name. Tell them about a time when you were a child and you were afraid because of something scary that happened-the Cuban Missile Crisis, Three Mile Island, another tragedy. Ask them how they feel about what happened, and what they are wondering.
Listen. Hold them. Tell them, "I love you." "Love is forever."

If they know someone who lost parents or other loved ones in the tragedies, talk about what it means to support a friend. Remind them not to gossip, but to speak directly to their friend or acquaintance and acknowledge the loss.
Listen. Hold them. Tell them, "I love you." "Love is forever."

If they go in their room and slam the door and talk on the phone to their friends, if they say "It's no big deal. Why does everybody want to talk about this. We already talked about it all day at school" slip a note under their door.

Tell them, I am going to church now to be with people whom I love and trust. I wish you would come with me. I want to listen. I want to hold you. I want you to know I love you. I love you forever.

As parents, we want nothing more than to protect our children from pain, from fear, from harm. As parents, we know nothing is more impossible. How we handle our own grief and integrity will speak volumes to our children about how to be a human being in a troubled, broken, world. May we be worthy of this most sacred charge that has been given to us. Forever.

Go on to Paws In The Dust
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